The Dark Knight
Starring Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, and Heath Ledger
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace
More than any other film this year, The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s electrifying, masterfully entertaining follow-up to an already startlingly good superhero film, achieves the highest level of complexity and intelligence that a piece of pop entertainment can reach. This is the greatest superhero movie ever made, an epic crime drama on the level of The Godfather or GoodFellas, and a thoughtful rumination on good, evil, and the distinction between them.
Batman has been unpopular lately. There have been “copycats,” semi-vigilantes whose crude attempts to fight crime crusader-style have left Gotham City in a state of unrest. The secret identity of Bruce Wayne may not remain so for very long, and flashy new D.A. Harvey Dent is not helping things. Although he agrees with everything Batman claims to be about, he can’t help but wonder if the caped crusader could do it in a slightly less violent way.
Soon enough, however, a real villain emerges: The Joker. An insane terrorist wearing clown makeup, The Joker likes to terrorize and kill for the sheer sport of it. His demand: Batman’s identity revealed or the death of innocents. “I’m an agent of chaos,” he proclaims. “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order. Well, then everyone loses their minds!”
Putting to shame the 80s/90s attempts to do the Caped Crusader justice, Batman Begins and now The Dark Knight confirm that Christopher Nolan is the right director for this material. Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister make Gotham City a realistic world where no one is safe.
Batman was always the darkest, most haunted of the D.C. superheroes, and Christian Bale’s performance is a revelation, both as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney all worked as either the man or his alter ego, but never consistently as both; Bale does. His costars—Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine—are pitch perfect in their roles, as well, with Oldman coming out on top.
The newcomers, however, are the strongest: Aaron Eckhart and the late Heath Ledger. Eckhart portrays Harvey Dent, a man as passionate in his fight against evil as Batman himself. But life takes an unexpected turn as he loses a loved one, and Dent’s true character is revealed, obvious to anyone familiar with Batman lore but no less tragic.
Then there is Heath Ledger, who has given the performance of his life. Not only does his complete recreation of The Joker stomp on the memory of Jack Nicholson’s overrated take, but it may also be the best performance I’ve ever seen, so seamless I could not distinguish between the actor and his character. I’m not joking, either.